The European Union is developing a register of "safe countries" for expedited asylum seeker deportations as part of a large-scale reform of asylum policy. Currently 12 countries already have their own "safe countries of origin" lists. However the new catalogue will replace them and will introduce the common listing to countries that don’t have their own, such as Finland.
In a memo on the matter, Finland’s Interior Ministry declared that asylum applications from countries classified as safe "would in principle not be assessed" and that authorities "would aim for a rapid denial of entry." The purpose of the list is to "accelerate and streamline deportations as well as send a signal beyond the EU."
However Interior Minister Paula Risikko said that even new arrivals from so-called "safe countries" would retain the right to claim asylum in the future. The countries on the new EU list are mainly Balkan states as well as Turkey.
"There will be no direct refusal of entry at the border; an individual can still present arguments for asylum," she declared.
According to the minister, the existence of a list of safe countries would not remove the obligation to assess asylum applications if arguments are made to support the claims.
"It is a right and it is reasonable."
Rapid processing and deportations for asylum seekers from safe countries
Asylum seekers arriving in Finland from countries deemed to be safe will be processed at an expedited pace and if necessary, authorities may also speedily repatriate applicants once they receive a deportation order.
"Even in that case the applicant would have the option to seek a stay of execution on a deportation order from a court. The court could block the deportation while the appeal is being heard," the minister explained.
Risikko said that a court would most likely suspend a deportation order in the event that an asylum application had not been investigated.
According to the minister, asylum seekers must be heard and applications must be investigated.
Asked about the practical use of the safe countries list, Risikko said that it would help harmonise practices across the EU.
"The reason why Finland supports the safe countries list is that as a result of the CEAS package, [EU] member states will harmonise their procedures and regulations. The safe country list is a part of that. It should support national decision-making," Risikko explained, referring to the Common European Asylum System.
Seven countries including Turkey on Commission list
"Safe country of origin" has already been defined in Finnish law, although authorities have not yet compiled such a register. According to the Aliens Act, a safe country is considered to be a state where "there is no danger of persecution or human rights violations" to asylum seekers. The state should comply with international human rights agreements and it should also have an independent and impartial judiciary.
In spite of this the European Union’s suggested safe country list includes countries such as Turkey, where critics of the government are under close scrutiny. However the minister would not comment about which countries might end up on the list.
"But it will be no easy matter to keep the list up to date. There are countries where the situation changes rapidly."
Other countries proposed by the European Commission are Albania, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. Asylum seekers from these countries account for some 17 percent of all EU asylum claims.
EU officials expect to take the list into use as part of a major reform of EU asylum policy that is due to be implemented in the next few years.